Weeks of lockdown in the country have enabled people to breathe cleaner air and feast on blue skies. But experts have warned that things will be back to where it used to be before the pandemic. Reduced human activities are not going to benefit environment in the long run.
The environmental changes wrought by the coronavirus were first visible from space. Then, as the disease and the lockdown spread, they could be sensed in the sky above our heads, the air in our lungs and even the ground beneath our feet.
While the human toll mounted horrendously from a single case in Wuhan to a global pandemic that has so far killed more than 88,000 people, nature, it seemed, was increasingly able to breathe more easily.
Recently, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India released a report on effect of ‘Janata Curfew’ on the air quality. The report found that the reduction in number of on-road vehicles, resulted in up to 51 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels and 32 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels during March 22-23, 2020 as compared to March 21.
Key environmental indices, which have steadily deteriorated for more than half a century, have paused or improved. In China, the world’s biggest source of carbon, emissions were down about 18% between early February and mid-March – a cut of 250m tonnes, equivalent to more than half the UK’s annual output. Europe is forecast to see a reduction of around 390m tonnes. Significant falls can also be expected in the US, where passenger vehicle traffic – its major source of CO2 – has fallen by nearly 40%. Even assuming a bounceback once the lockdown is lifted, the planet is expected to see its first fall in global emissions since the 2008-9 financial crisis.
Environmentalists feel that carbon emissions may have reduced drastically but are likely to go back to the pre-corona levels in a few weeks’ time, once the virus threat mitigates. “We are seeing the reduction of emissions which is a major contributor to climate change. This is happening because of the drastic drop in burning of fossil fuel with reduction in industrial activities and general traffic. Hence, people today are able to see blue skies and natural habitat in relatively cleaner air. “However, this is temporary and it is not going to benefit the environment in the long run. From the current crisis, people all over the world are suffering and facing severe hardship, while the percentage of people who can afford to work from the safety of home is not huge,” said Avinash Chanchal, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace India.
V Vinoj, Assistant Professor at IIT Bhubaneshwar believes that this phase has certainly raised awareness about the need for people to adopt more eco-friendly lifestyles including the usage of clean transport fuels once human activity resumes.
Another environmentalist Aarti Khosla, Director, Climate Trends, said this crisis should be used as an opportunity to reduce dependence on other countries.
Talking about tackling the crisis, Avinash Chanchal of Greenpeace India said COVID-19 outbreak should be taken as a lesson to mankind. “Like COVID-19, climate crisis affects society’s most vulnerable and marginalized people and to address the climate crisis we need to focus on systemic and behavioural changes. We can only use the COVID-19 outbreak as a lesson to mankind and once we pass the crisis, the government will need to focus on a coordinated and consistent action plan to tackle the climate crisis,” Chanchal said.